The Republican-controlled House is expected to pass a bill on Tuesday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, though the bill still faces a tough battle in the Senate before it could become law.
Special exceptions could be granted in cases of rape and incest, but doctors who perform abortions past the 20-week mark would be liable for fines and up to five years in jail if the bill, called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is signed into law. The bill would not penalize women seeking abortions.
The bill is based on the theory that a 20-week-old fetus can feel pain, though critics have called research supporting this theory “junk science” — in fact, the best available science suggests fetuses can’t feel pain until well after the 20-week mark.
Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, who sponsored the bill tweeted about the bill on Monday using the hashtag #TheyFeelPain.
“It’s science: unborn babies feel pain by at least 20 weeks. Late, dismemberment abortions are too extreme for America,” he wrote.
But people in the medical community say he’s wrong.
“There’s actually conclusive evidence that shows that the neurologic structures in a fetus aren’t completely laid down and working yet until much further along in pregnancy, we think even the third trimester,” said Jennifer Conti, a clinical assistant professor and OB-GYN at Stanford University and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Vox.
“[Twenty weeks] is just an arbitrary limit set in place by politicians that has no medical or scientific backing,” she continued.
Some version of a 20-week abortion ban already exists in 20 states. The House passed a similar bill in 2015 and is expected to pass again, especially as the White House has thrown its support behind the measure.
What a 20-week abortion ban means for women
It’s unlikely the bill will become federal law, as it would need to pass the Senate with a 60-vote majority. Opponents of the bill, however, say harm can be done even if the bill never gets signed into law.
“By even putting this issue on a national platform, you’re misleading the American people,” Conti said to Vox, noting the bad science behind the bill could influence women’s decisions whether or not to get an abortion. “You’re really providing false and dangerous information that is affecting millions of women.”
In regions where abortion bans are already in place, women often have to drive across state lines to find providers that will perform abortions, often a great financial and logistical strain.
“To imagine a ban like this nationwide and to think that no one could even have the opportunity to go to another state to get the care is frightening,” Amy Friedrich-Karnik, senior federal policy adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Vox.
Other pro-choice groups have also railed against the legislation.
"This dangerous, out-of-touch legislation is nothing more than yet another attempt to restrict women's access to safe, legal abortion," Planned Parenthood Action Fund said in a statement posted online.
The 20-week ban has also been criticized by opponents as another attempt to erode the Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that ruled abortion was legal.
If women’s access to safe and legal abortions is taken away, so too is their agency, argues Ilyse Hogue, NARAL Pro-Choice America president.
“The House GOP’s bill to ban abortion after 20 wks is an attack on women’s freedom & our ability to chart our own futures,” she tweeted on Monday.